“From goal post to lead coach” – now that would make a great title for an autobiography. Lee Morris gives us a taster.
1. How did you get into running and why?
I was never a sporty child, in fact I was always last picked in PE. One vivid memory of PE as a child was when I was 8 and my teacher picked me and 3 others first, I was thrilled. My elation didn’t last long as the four of us were to be the goalposts while the other boys played football around us.
In 2013 my son drew a picture of me and explained his drawing to me – “That’s your head, that’s your legs and that’s your fat tummy!” I knew I had to do something. At the time I was a teacher and my work wife (Teaching Assistant) was Rachel Ryan, told me that her and her husband Paul had started doing Darlington South Park parkrun, so on September 21st 2013 I rocked up and did my first parkrun. It wasn’t pretty, it was damned hard work, but I was hooked; I clocked a time of 36:11 and I was thrilled with that.
I kept parkrunning and was in awe of other runners who could actually run and talk or run fast. I made friends there and remember a conversation with Wendy Noble where she encouraged me to come along to Quakers, and the rest is history.
2. What kept you going when you first started running?
I loved the improvements and how quickly they came. I didn’t have the confidence to enter races at first, but I enjoyed challenging myself to run greater distances and at faster paces. I loved the field sessions in the summer because you didn’t have to run very far to do the main session (I’m a very lazy runner).
3. How much training do you typically do each week?
It varies, anywhere between every day and none at all. I try to run at least 3 times a week, including a main session at Quakers. I’ve recently discovered that it’s not too far to run down to sessions when I’m coaching, despite telling myself for the past 6 years that it is!
4. Be honest, do you enjoy training?
Not always! When I enjoy it I throw myself into it with gusto. There are times that I really don’t want to train, but I always feel better after I do. As with most other things in my life, I need noise when I’m training, especially on my own. I try to find music I like that’s around the same beat to run to, it’s an eclectic mix but it helps to keep me going.
5. Do you do any other sports or fitness activities?
I’ve joined a gym and have really seen the benefits of cross training. I’ve lost a couple of stone and have seen my times improve too – I try to get to at least 2 training sessions a week there. I walk or cycle to work 2 days a week and having a busy family life helps too.
6. Do you manage to fit in any other hobbies?
Apart from running, my main hobby is acting. I was a member of Darlington Operatic Society for a long time (that’s where I met my wife, Wendy) but I stopped doing that a few years ago. Now I’m an actor for Tall Tales Mysteries and love bringing their whacky characters to life. It’s not unusual to find me in a hotel in the region dressed as a crocodile, or a genie, or pretending to be a Russian ballet dancer!!! It keeps me busy and is also great fun.
7. Tell us about some of the races that you’ve done in the past
I’ve done lots of different races, from 1 mile relays to half marathons. Some that stand out are Fountains 10k in 2018 where five of us ran together and jumped in every puddle, squelched through every bog and even kissed the tarmac when we got back to the road.
Another that stands out was my first Great North Run in 2016. I was lucky to get a ballot place and had mentioned it at a training session. David Ledgerwood said then that he’s run it with me and keep me going. He stayed with me through the elation of starting, the swearing and moaning at mile 10 and the relief at finishing too – thank you David. Both my parents were still alive so ringing them and saying I’d done it was great, they were so proud of me. My mam even said that made me a proper runner rather than just someone who jogged around the park on a Saturday morning!
8. What’s your current running goal?
My 2020 goal was to complete Sheffield Half Marathon in under 2:15, but Covid-19 put paid to that. The race has been rescheduled so I’m training for the rescheduled date in September. I’m also hoping to do the Roman Run in September, which starts in Brecon and ends 15 miles later in Merthyr Tidfill, going over the tops of the Brecon Beacons, I’ll be running that with my cousin who lives along the route.
I decided that 2020 was going to be the year where I got back to enjoying running again. I have spent the last 3 years fretting that my times weren’t what they were and that I wasn’t as good as I used to be. This year I’m running for me and taking the pressure off. If I hit a pb, brilliant. I’ve always said that I’m the kind of runner that makes the faster ones look good, I’m easily beatable but always enthusiastic – someone needs to finish last, why not me?
9. What are your longer term running goals?
To keep enjoying running and coaching. I’d like to give the track and field season a go – maybe next year?
10. What is your favourite race/distance/terrain?
I love it when it’s mixed terrain. I’m not an all-out road runner or an all-out trail runner – I like to mix it up. Living where I do in Darlington there are so many options and routes, it’s great.
11. What are your proudest running achievements?
There are lots, 3 GNRs, lots of parkrun achievements too. My proudest achievements are probably related to coaching the Beginners Groups, seeing people complain about running for 60 seconds (I’m looking at you Ruth Middleton) to completing 5k and then moving on to greater distances. Because of this I was nominated for and won the Darlington Cares ‘Good Egg’ Award at the Best of Darlington Awards in 2018 – it was lovely to get recognition outside of the running community for encouraging new runners and talking about mental health within running too.
12. Anything in your running experience you regret?
Not starting earlier!
13. How many pairs of trainers/ running shoes do you have and do you have a favourite pair?
I have 2 pairs of running shoes at the moment, some blue ones and some black ones. I don’t stick to one brand; I try them on and if they’re comfy I buy them. My favourites at the moment are Saucony, my others are Asics, apart from that I have no idea of the model of them.
14. What’s your idea of running heaven?
Starting on my own, meeting a friend for a run and a catch up, then arriving home and having a coffee. Bliss.
15. What’s your idea of running hell?
Aycliffe 10k. It’s the monotony of the route, those roads go on forever!
16. What is the best piece of running advice you’ve ever been given?
Relax. There are always other races, other training sessions, other chances. If today’s not your day, then tomorrow might be.
17. Any advice to newcomers to running?
Don’t do too much too quickly. New runners tend to get the bug then suddenly ramp up the distances. You don’t learn to read by starting with Biff Chip and Kipper then go straight to reading War and Peace. Work up gradually, talk to any of the coaches who can advise, but don’t ask all of them you’ll get mixed messages and end up confused.
18. What keeps you going when the going gets tough in a hard race?
Talking to people. It may surprise you that I’m a sociable person. Sometimes other runners look at you like you’re mad, other times, they’re as mad as I am.
19. How do you relax/reward yourself after a race?
My post-race reward is usually a coffee. I take my coffee black, so it needs to be a nice coffee. If I get home after a run and have the house to myself, it’s a Costa coffee pod from my machine and a crumpet with cheese melted onto it. Heaven.
20. If you could run anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’d like autumn and spring running, so it wouldn’t be anywhere too hot or too cold! I think I’d like to run alongside a river or a lake somewhere, possibly along the river Wye in Herefordshire, we visited a few years ago and the scenery was beautiful. If not, then I’ve never run in the Lake District, that’d be nice!